Posted on November 15, 2019
It’s just another average training weekend for Yaniv Yarkoni….a 50-mile bike ride on Saturday, followed by a 10-mile run on Sunday. Once in a while, he adds on a 45-minute lap session in the pool. If that sounds grueling, it is, but competing in triathlons is what Yaniv loves to do. “I enjoy the sense of achievement after setting an ambitious goal and conquering all the challenges along the way,” he explains.
Yaniv did his first triathlon back in 1998. His father had recently passed away, and he was searching for a unique way to honor him that was a little different from the other usual avenues. Although Yaniv has had a longstanding interest in fitness and nutrition, his first triathlon was challenging. In fact, he recalls being one of the last to finish, but he found it exhilarating, and soon he was planning his next triathlon, and then the one after that. Belonging to local tri clubs and his dedication to hard training were soon rewarded with successful finishes in the top three age groups.
Fast forward 21 years, to September 2019, his third time competing in the Atlantic City Half Ironman. “You need a lot more discipline for this race than other tri distances,” he explains. Competitors are required to do a 1.2-mile swim, a 56-mile bike ride, and a 13.1-mile run. It turned out to be Yaniv’s personal best yet (5:19), as he succeeded in shaving off time in all three disciplines from his prior-year time. Earlier this summer, Yaniv competed in the NJ State Triathlon and finished in the top 15%, which qualified him to compete in the USA Triathlon Age-Group National Championship in Cleveland, Ohio. “It was truly an honor to be invited and compete among the best athletes in the country – it was an amazing experience,” he enthuses.
Yaniv finds triathlon involvement captivating for various reasons, mainly the element of friendly competition, while staying healthy through regular exercise and stress reduction. “It’s a great way to clear your mind,” he adds. Above all, Yaniv aims to continually improve on his personal milestones.
His passion for the sport has also shaped his professional goals. He earned his MS degree in nutrition in 2005, but the exacting requirements of sports nutrition for triathlons galvanized him to go back to school to become a registered dietitian (RD) in 2013. Over the years, he has helped individuals reach their fitness and weight management goals as a personal trainer and nutritionist. “I firmly believe exercising and eating healthfully can be fun and not a chore,” Yaniv affirms.
“It’s really crucial to get the nutrition piece of this event right,” he continues. “You may exercise for an hour but also be careless with poor nutrition the remaining 23. Eating and drinking nourishes you and propels you forward, both in training and in races.”
Experience and his professional knowledge has given Yaniv insight into exactly what he needs to power himself through long endurance events, from the right amount of fluid ounces of sports drink to maintain optimal electrolyte/hydration status, to how often he consumes the gel packs needed to fuel his energy and stamina during the grueling bike/run. “The last thing you want to do is ‘bonk’ – burn out during the event. It is crucial to constantly replenish sugar and vital calories; otherwise, it can be a long, unfulfilling day,” he explains.
Rest and recovery are equally important. The first few days after a tri, Yaniv takes a lighter workout load to recover, usually a light jog or ride, along with dynamic stretches to ease muscle soreness. But aside from that, he trains year round. In the fall and winter off-seasons, he focuses on weight training to build muscle and spins on his stationary bicycle. In the spring, he switches to outdoor biking and running slowly to build up distance, especially during long weekend workouts. Yaniv’s favorite discipline is running, followed by biking, with swimming a distant third.
TMB Racing, a tri training group, also helps Yaniv keep his motivation high and gives him the opportunity to train with other local triathletes toward similar goals. The close-knit tri club community provides members with camraderie and support, while pushing each other at training sessions.“We really enjoy each other’s company, and a little friendly competition never hurts.”
But where would an athlete be without his cheering squad? Yaniv’s family, naturally, are his biggest fans,but they also play a huge part in helping him sustain his training regimen over the long term. “It’s really a group effort. Everyone in the family has to be involved,” he says. “You need a lot of support from your family to continue training at the level necessary to compete in this sport. I couldn’t do it without a lot of support and love from my wife Tamar and my children, Sam and Amanda.” He remembers fondly how, when the children were small,
Tamar helped them create an inspirational sign to hold up and cheer Yaniv on for his first Ironman race. This special sign reads “Go Daddy Go!” and remains near and dear to him to this day.
In the end, says Yaniv, successfully competing in triathlons comes down to a lot of self-discipline and being in the moment. It is easy to get distracted by what’s happening around you, whether it’s other competitors, your own discomfort, or the sound of the crowds cheering.
“It is often very hard to remain focused and keep your mind on your goal for such a long period of time, but it’s definitely rewarding once you cross the finish line,” he avows. “Life, too, is so complex, with a lot of distractions and stumbling blocks. But challenging yourself to overcome these hurdles is gratifying. It’s always easier to achieve my goals when I think about my loved ones.” Yaniv reflects, too, that “races could be seen as a set of examples for my kids, helping them find strength to overcome any difficulty in life.”
Yaniv hopes to complete his first full Ironman distance in the near future. And this fall, he was asked to pace the Princeton Half Marathon runners into the 13.1 mile finish line. Inspired to start your own training regimen? “One of the best ways to start a tri is to register for an event on your calendar to give yourself a goal,” he advises. “Be careful, though: once you complete your first tri, you may find yourself coming back for more.”
Originally published in the November-December 2019 issue of the Shofar. For more issues of the Shofar, visit the Shofar archives.